The Mazamas offers a variety of classes for all ability levels. Learn new skills in mountaineering, rock climbing, first aid, ski mountaineering, and more.
Canyoneering (or “Canyoning”) is the sport of exploring canyons using a variety of techniques such as scrambling, climbing, rappelling, wading and swimming. The term is most often used to describe technical descents requiring ropes, harnesses, and other specialized gear. Like climbs, canyons can vary widely in level of difficulty: ranging from the easy hike-through variety to the extremely technical. Dry canyons are significantly easier in terms of rigging and preparation compared to those with flowing water. The more water that’s present, the more difficult the canyon becomes. This class will focus primarily on local aquatic canyons in the Pacific Northwest.
Course Information & Format
The Mazama Canyoneering class takes place over approximately two months. The class includes five lectures, held at the Mazama Mountaineering Center, and two field sessions; locations TBD.
The class typically accepts 20–30 students. Lectures take place in a large group format, but students are broken out into smaller groups for the field sessions.
- An informal class Meet & Greet will be held a week before the class starts.
- This year’s canyon outing will be held in the Lewis River area in Gifford Pinchot NF and will be held on August 13-16. Graduates are invited to participate. Details will be provided during the class.
This is NOT a beginner class. Participants should be familiar with basic principles of anchor building, belaying, rappelling, rope management, wilderness navigation, first aid, and also be a competent swimmer. Participants must be able to build an anchor and safely execute a basic rappel without supervision.
Required Skills include:
- Common knots used in technical systems
- How to belay
- How to rappel
- Rope management
- Anchor building
- Being an active participant on a team
- Familiarity with mechanical advantage systems
- Backcountry navigation
- Wilderness first aid
Canyoneering Details & History
Today, canyoneering is practiced all over the world, although it is most well known in Europe and the United States. In North America, its most commonly associated with the famous slot canyons of the Colorado Plateau, although it’s also practiced in the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada, Arizona, British Columbia, Mexico, Hawaii, and here in the Cascade Range. With one of the greatest concentrations of waterfalls in the world, canyoneering is a natural fit for the Pacific Northwest.
While there are many similarities between canyoneering and climbing, the two are unique sports with unique techniques and hazards. Experienced climbers may find their skills do not translate entirely to the canyon world; there’s a lot more to learn.
- Anchor creativity
- Rapid-fire single strand rappels
- Rappelling down waterfalls
- Hard starts & dealing with overhangs.
- Rappelling in confined spaces
- Rappelling with packs
- Landing in deep pools (too deep to stand)
- Swimming & dealing with current
- Cold temperatures (many creeks stay cold all year round)
- Bushwhacking to remote areas
Water adds a new variable to the rappel equation, and water protection will likely be required for both the canyoneer and their gear. Canyons may require bushwhacking into remote rugged areas and thus requires a high level of self-sufficiency. Some canyons are extremely committing. Once you pull your rope down on the first rappel, you may be committing yourself to the entire descent.
- Planning an Outing
- Canyon Hazards
- Appropriate Gear & Water Protection
- Leave No Trace & Canyon Ethics
- Rappel Technique & Situational Awareness
- Signals & Communication
- Single Rope Technique
- Why two-strand rappels are dangerous in canyons with significant water.
- Why the ATC is not a good rappel device in canyons with significant water.
- Rope Blocks & Setting the Length
- Rigging for contingency
- Retrievable Anchors
- Introduction to Swiftwater
- Canyon Rescue
Moderate–Canyoneering requires a moderate time commitment over a period of approximately 2 months. There are lectures once a week and two weekend field sessions.
Moderate–Canyoneering takes place over a period of 6 weeks and consists of two required weekend sessions.
The application period typically opens in early to mid-March and is open for two weeks.
Participants should be familiar with the basic principles of anchor building, belaying, rappelling, rope management, wilderness navigation, first aid, and also be a competent swimmer. Participants must be able to build an anchor and safely execute a basic rappel without supervision.
Depending on experience, participants may be asked to demonstrate working knowledge of the skills described above.
Required Gear Details
Proper canyon gear and attire will be discussed in much greater detail during the first lecture. At a minimum, students will require:
- full body wetsuit*
- climbing helmet
- canyon-specific rappel device**
- locking carabiners x 4 (screw-lock pear-abiners ideal)
- prusiks x 2
- quicklinks x 2 (climbing rated)
- 30 ft of black webbing (9/16" or 1")
- backpack: 35-40 liter pack is ideal for day outings; be prepared to help carry the ropes
- dry bags -OR- a thick compactor garbage bag to line your pack with (protection vs. immersion)
- quick-dry synthetic clothing
- rain shell
- canyon shoes -OR- light hiking boots with decent tread (expect to be hiking in the water)
- neoprene socks (recommended 5mm) -OR- thick wool socks
- rappel gloves (cheap leather gardening gloves work well)
- signaling whistle**
*Full-body wetsuits are required for all students; at least a 4/3, possibly a 5/4 wetsuit if you run cold. Farmer John/Jane style wetsuits and shorties are not permitted. Drysuits are not recommended as they’re expensive and as Pacific NW canyons are often full of sharp, pointy things.
**Students are required to have a canyon-specific rappel device (ex. Petzl Pirana or CanyonWerks Critr2) and a signaling whistle (ex: Fox 40).